Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: September 13, 2015

September 13, 2015 — Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 50: 5-9A; Ps 114: 1-6, 8-9: Jas 2: 14-18; Mk 8: 27-35

icon-st-markJesus’ mission, His purpose, was relatively basic. He came among us, to suffer in our behalf, to die, and to rise again. Although the entire understanding of what the Lord did for each of us may seem complex, it is comparatively simple in many ways. Today’s readings and today’s Gospel explicate this for us.

The Book of Isaiah is one of the most significant of the Old Testament. There is a common theme that runs through the entire Book, and it is the theme of salvation. The major part of Isaiah is something that was found among the Dead Sea Scrolls and it predates Jesus by more than 100 years. Isaiah was truly a prophet as he anticipated the Messiah who was to come as well as the salvation the Lord would bring.

Our First Reading on this 24th Sunday in Ordinary Time, which comes to us from Isaiah, speaks to two key aspects of the Messiah to come — obedience and submission. These are two elements to which we, too, are called. Being a Catholic and a Christian entails being obedient to God, and it also requires that we see God as the controlling factor in our lives. We trust Him, and we rely on Him in all aspects of how we live and what we do. In other words, as good stewards we live God-centered lives. When Isaiah says “I have set my face like flint,” he is quoting the Messiah and indicating Jesus’ determination and resolve in fulfilling His mission. That may be demanding for us to emulate, but that is the steadfastness the Lord expects from us.

James speaks eloquently to this same fortitude as reflected by how we live out our faith. Living our faith out is at the crux of the message in our Second Reading. We are called to have an active and alive faith that is exemplified by our actions, by what we do to be good stewards of our multiple gifts. Faith as James describes it is impossible to see; it is intangible. However, James makes it clear that what we do, our works, how we live as good stewards, can be seen. It is the real indication of the faith that cannot be seen. As James states so powerfully, “Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.” The most vigorous way we can display our belief in the promise of Christ is to show our trust in Him by what we do, by how we serve, by how we live out our lives of stewardship. Living faith produces loving action.

In the Gospel from Mark, Jesus asks His disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” The disciples repeat what they have heard people say — “ John the Baptist…Elijah…one of the prophets,” but it is St. Peter who identifies who the Lord really is — “You are the Christ.” We must never forget that “Christ” means “the anointed,” the “Messiah,” “Christ” is not a name; it is a title. We often criticize and diminish Peter for some of his errors and misjudgments, but in this instance, he has the correct and complete answer, although he completely reverses himself in the following verses. As we have pointed out many times, there is the world of humankind, and there is the world of God. Peter initially speaks from a God-centered angle, but then he immediately changes to a human outlook. This is the same trial we face — to see beyond the obvious and to appreciate the divinity and holiness of the Lord. When we plant a seed, we lose sight of it; it basically dies to our perception. Believing, having faith and trust, allows us to envision the plant and the fruits that the seed will produce. Trust in God allows us to believe, to have faith, and to show our faith with actions.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: September 13, 2015

September 13, 2015 — Twenty-fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 50: 5-9A; Ps 114: 1-6, 8-9: Jas 2: 14-18; Mk 8: 27-35

st-james-icon-1“Demonstrate your faith to me without works, and I will demonstrate my faith to you from my works.” (James 2: 18) In our Second Reading from the Letter of James we are challenged to have a living faith, a faith backed up by action. This is a concept which has been debated ever since Jesus invited us to be His disciples. Is our faith enough to save us, or must we do more? James certainly thinks we need to do more.

James is making reference to something termed by most theologians as “living faith.” That kind of faith is exemplified by being an active participant in building the Kingdom. It is more than attending Mass and praying. It is the kind of faith to which we are called through stewardship. Our faith communities, our parishes, are filled with ministries and ways that we can serve and reach out to those in need. Perhaps we need to find a way to be involved in something, anything, to be an active member of our communities, a focused and participating steward.

God knows who and what we are. For some of us prayer and a complete trusting faith is most likely enough. However, James is trying to let us know that if we can, we need to look for more. We need to find ways to live out our faith as stewards of our many gifts.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: September 6, 2015

September 6, 2015 — Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 35: 4-7A; Ps 14: 6-10: Jas 2: 1-5; Mk 7: 31-37

healing-jesus-200Jesus shows no preference when it comes to those who believe. If you believe, no matter who or what you are, you can be saved. If you do not believe, it does not matter who you are. As is written in our Second Reading from James, we, too, are called to that same kind of attitude: “Brothers and Sisters, show no partiality as you adhere to the faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”

The Gospel records a remarkable healing of a man who could not hear or speak. Our First Reading from Isaiah refers to similar events when Isaiah, looking to the future of the Kingdom here on earth, states, “Then will the eyes of the blind be opened, the ears of the deaf be cleared; then will the lame leap like a stag; then the tongue of the mute will sing.” Each of our lives is filled with challenges and trials. Isaiah tells us that our strength is in God. When John the Baptist was in prison, he began to doubt (a test each of us faces) and he sent people to pose a question to Jesus. The Lord’s response was “Go and report to John what you have heard and seen: the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead rise, the poor have the gospel preached to them.” (Matthew 11: 4) Throughout Holy Scripture Jesus tells us and repeats to us the glory of salvation. That is where our trust should lie; that is where we need to find strength; that is our hope.

We must not forget that the age when the letter of James was written was a time filled with prejudice and opinions based upon how one was viewed in terms of class, religion, gender, and nationality. People were constantly classified and judged. We often speak of and think of the early followers of Jesus as being unified. Nevertheless, they battled many of the same attitudes prevalent today and throughout history. Jesus spent his ministry trying to break down the barriers that existed between and among people; the Second Reading from James addresses these same difficulties. James speaks in particular of the rich and the poor and how we judge and view people based upon our perception of their place in society. James indicates that the poor are chosen, and this is an estimation shared by the Lord. The poor have inherited the Kingdom, first of all, because as Jesus indicated, it is easier for them to enter Heaven. In addition, the poor have learned to trust God to a greater extent than others. Thus, their faith may be deeper. We need to find that trust in God in our lives.

The Gospel reading from St. Mark indicates that Jesus and His followers were traveling and arrived in the “region of Decapolis.” Decapolis means “ten cities” in Greek, and it was an area just east of the Sea of Galilee, and a region with which Jesus (who was from the northern end of the Sea and of Galilee) was familiar. The people there were Gentiles, so it is probable that both those who presented the man for healing to the Lord, as well as the man himself, were not Jewish. However, as James states, the Lord shows no partiality. Make no mistake; Jesus knew what He was doing at every moment, and everything He did and said was significant to us and our understanding. Our goal as Catholics and Christians is to answer the Lord’s call to discipleship and stewardship and holiness, and in the process of taking action in response to that summons, we are to minister and serve with no regard to judgment or bias. Loving our neighbor is a command, not a choice, and loving our neighbor indiscriminately is Jesus’ way.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: September 6, 2015

September 6, 2015 — Twenty-third Sunday in Ordinary Time
Is 35: 4-7A; Ps 14: 6-10: Jas 2: 1-5; Mk 7: 31-37

JesusHealstheDeafMute.jogToday’s Gospel from Mark includes an extraordinary occasion when Jesus cured and healed a man who had been unable to hear or speak. In the process of healing him the Lord said one word — Ephphatha, a word that means “Be opened.” In a homily given in the fall of 2012, Pope Benedict XVI stated: “At the heart of today’s Gospel there is a small but very important word, a word that in its deepest meaning sums up the whole message and the whole work of Christ. It is the Aramaic Ephphatha.

The Holy Father went on to point out that many are inwardly deaf to the world around them and remain mute at a time when the world is in need of spiritual guidance. The Pope’s meditation on that Gospel and that one important word also included a reminder that the Lord speaks to each of us in a language of love, and calls us to be baptized disciples.

The man in the Gospel had been isolated and insulated from the world around him. We may tend to be that way at times also. Jesus calls us to see our vocation in human society, and to strive to be good stewards of that vocation. In closing his homily that day, Pope Benedict prompted us what our response should be: “Speak Lord, for your servant is listening.” (1 Samuel 3: 10)

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: August 30, 2015

August 30, 2015 — Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dt 4: 1-2, 6-8; Ps 15: 2-5; Jas 1: 17-18, 21B-22, 27; Mk 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

ST-MARK-ICON-2We have often maintained that there is a stewardship message for us in every reading from Holy Scripture, and that on any given Sunday there is a potential opportunity for us to increase our understanding and wisdom in relation to what it means to live a stewardship way of life.

Today’s readings span an area that can be a challenge for us in terms of not only stewardship but also how we approach our faith lives and our relationships to the Church through our parish, our diocese, and the Universal Church as well.

The First Reading is drawn from the Book of Deuteronomy. Many are fascinated by the name of that Book — Deuteronomy. However, it is very basic, drawn from the Greek word Deuteronomiun, which quite simply means, “Second law.” The Book of Deuteronomy consists basically of three sermons given by Moses. In today’s reading Moses is addressing the idea of the Law. It has been said that one of the ways that Satan works in our lives is to make us “remember what we should forget” and to “forget what we should remember.” This is part of Moses’ message in this reading. The key word to understanding what Moses is saying is the word “tradition.” One of our human failings is to place too much emphasis on traditions while losing sight of the reasons for a tradition. Moses cautions the people and all of us also to avoid putting our very human perceptions on what God has called us to do.

Our focus as Catholics should be on eternal life, not on the particulars of the life we experience on earth. That does not mean that we do not strive to live holy lives and we do not commit ourselves to lives of service and love, but it does mean that we acknowledge that it is eternity with the Lord that is our goal. Just as Moses warns us not to base our lives on the traditions that are human-made, the Epistle of James asks us to measure life and the goodness of life not on our daily human experiences, but on the fact that “every perfect gift is from above.” In addition, just as Moses addresses the hypocrites and their practice of faith, James, too, reminds us that what we do is more important than merely giving the show of faith: “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only.”

The Gospel from Mark addresses these human-based traditions using the phrases “keeping the tradition of the elders” and “things that they have traditionally observed.” Jesus, of course, calls them hypocrites and points out to them how their own priorities are out of order. Paralleling the statement from James about being “doers” and not just “hearers,” the Lord says, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” He goes on to say, “You disregard God’s commandment, but cling to human tradition.”

This is a similar caveat as that offered by Moses and James. Jesus’ response to them indicates that they need (and we do, also) to be more concerned about cleansing their hearts than their hands. Jesus’ apprehension is that each of us needs to be cleansed from the inside out, not from the outside in. Our faith, our practice of our faith, is only genuine if it comes from the heart. One of the adages associated with stewardship is that we need to “possess loosely.” That includes some of the traditions to which we may cling.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: August 30, 2015

August 30, 2015 — Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
Dt 4: 1-2, 6-8; Ps 15: 2-5; Jas 1: 17-18, 21B-22, 27; Mk 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23

st-mark-iconIn today’s Gospel from Mark, Jesus quoted the prophet Isaiah as he addressed the Pharisees, reminding them that they are hypocrites: “The people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me,” Jesus said. Unfortunately, some of us may fall into the same category.

We may attend Mass regularly; we may pray daily; we even may be supportive of the Church with our time, talent, and treasure as good stewards. However, Jesus is challenging us to do more than just make the appearance of being a good Catholic. The root Greek word for “hypocrite” is hypokrisis, which meant one “who is an actor” or one “who wears a mask.” The Lord’s point is that we must reach deeper and strive to have Him in our hearts.

Our society is quite taken with images and appearances. We need to recognize that Jesus sees through and beyond what we appear to be and do, and He sees into our hearts and souls. This may make us uncomfortable, but it is something with which we must deal on a daily basis. Whatever we do and whatever we may pursue needs to be motivated by love of the Lord and of “our neighbor.” Love like that — having our hearts close to Jesus — is work, but it is a labor worth pursuing.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: August 23, 2015

August 23, 2015 — Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jos 24: 1-2A, 15-18; Ps 34: 2-3, 16-21; Eph 5: 21-32; Jn 6: 60-69

Holy-Mass-of-JesusA popular statement you may have heard is, “If you are Catholic and you attend Mass every day, in three years you will have heard the entire Bible.” Although not completely accurate, this is based upon the fact that as Catholics we hear Scripture at least twice at each daily Mass, and three times at Sunday and Holy Day Masses. The readings from the Lectionary are arranged in a three-year cycle, A, B, and C. They follow our liturgical Church year that begins with the First Sunday of Advent and ends with the Feast of Christ the King. In the current year we are in Cycle B. In general, the Cycles follow this formula: Gospel readings in each cycle are drawn from Cycle A (Matthew); Cycle B (Mark); Cycle C (Luke), with the Gospel of John prevalent during Easter and other special liturgical seasons. It is estimated that we hear about 90% of the Bible over that period of time.

The point of this background is to make us aware of our readings over the past several Sundays. Both the Second Readings and the Gospels have progressed through particular Scripture; the Second Readings have been drawn exclusively from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, and the Gospels from John, chapter 6. This is an example of how we as Catholics hear the Bible in detail at Mass. The message from the Lord has been consistent: He is the way to eternal life; we can only achieve that through Him.

When we think of prophets, we tend to view them as predicting the future. However, prophets like Joshua also explained things that might be difficult for people to understand. Joshua opens his oration in the First Reading by saying, “Thus says the Lord…” Joshua then elucidates what to do and how to do it. The prophet’s main point is that people have a choice. Each of us has a choice when it comes to deciding if we will indeed “serve the Lord” or satisfy our own self-interests. This is the stewardship choice addressed by St. Paul in the Second Reading as well.

In the Second Reading, Paul’s initial admonition is “Be subordinate to one another out of reverence for Christ.” He then develops that theory further. Some take umbrage with how Paul explicates the idea of being subordinate, but they may be missing St. Paul’s basic point, which is the same as Joshua’s. Each of us makes a choice in life as to whether we are going to be self-centered or other-centered. As he uses the terms in this letter, Paul means that we need to consider others first before ourselves; we should not be self seeking; and we need to find joy in other’s successes. That is a humble approach to relationships, but it is the stewardship attitude.

As indicated in the opening of this reflection, the Gospel Reading from St. John is the continuation of what is called the “Bread of Life” Discourse. The idea that one must consume and partake of the Body and Blood in order to be one with Christ was not easy to accept. Just as Joshua and St. Paul told us that we had choices to make, Jesus is doing the same. The Gospel reports, “…many of the disciples returned to their former way of life, and no longer accompanied him.” The Twelve Apostles nevertheless remained at His side. When Jesus queried them as to why they did not leave, St. Peter replies, “Master, to whom shall we go. You have the words of eternal life.”

Peter does not always come across in the best light; at times he appears a bit slow to understand, and he certainly does and says things that indicate that he may not be a deep thinker. However, in this instance he exemplifies the choice we have — that is, to follow Jesus or not. Following the Lord, living in the way He expects, is not easy nor was it ever intended to be easy. That is our challenge when we make our own choices. As Christians we need to learn that just like the Apostles, there is really nowhere else to go.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: August 23, 2015

August 23, 2015 — Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Jos 24: 1-2A, 15-18; Ps 34: 2-3, 16-21; Eph 5: 21-32; Jn 6: 60-69

JOSHUA-ISRAELITESIt is reported in the Old Testament Books of Exodus and Numbers that Joshua succeeded Moses as the leader of the Israelites. In fact, Joshua is explained as Moses’ assistant, while Moses himself led the Israelites. Our First Reading today from the Book of Joshua recounts how, under Joshua, the Israelites renewed their Covenant with God.

For those who practice stewardship as a way of life, both renewal and covenant are significant. We speak of conversion in relation to the commitments we make to live as God-centered and loving people. Yet, there are times when it is important to personally renew our promises to God and to make a new covenant with the Lord.

Many parishes have an annual stewardship renewal during which people are given the opportunity to “renew” their involvements in prayer, in ministry, and in giving through the offertory. These “renewals” may involve a commitment or pledge card. This is what has occurred in the Church for centuries. It is vital that we revisit our assurances to the Lord.

As Joshua addresses the people in today’s reading, he states, “As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” This quote is relatively familiar in the Christian world. Yet, this is exactly the kind of pledge and covenant each of us needs to make.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: August 16, 2015

August 16, 2015 — Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Prv 9: 1-6; Ps 34: 2-7; Eph 5: 15-20; Jn 6: 51-58

CHRIST-HEAVEN-CELESTIAL-REALM-GREAT-FEASTReferences to food and drink are abundant in the readings for this Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time. They are nonetheless largely symbolic of something greater — that is, wisdom and understanding. There is knowledge, knowing something. Then there is comprehension, grasping in some ways what the learning we have achieved means. However, the ultimate is wisdom, not just knowing and understanding, but seeing how it applies to our lives.

That is what Jesus sought in His teachings and His ministry. He wanted people to see beyond the obvious and into the depths of what life and the way we live it is all about. Nevertheless, that was not easy for the people of His time, nor is it for us today.

Our First Reading is from the Book of Proverbs. Proverbs is a collection of sayings and instructions that represent “wisdom.” The Book deals with values, moral behavior, the meaning of life, and correct conduct. The underlying premise is simply that recognizing the authority and the control and the “wisdom” of God takes precedent over everything else. This is, of course, at the heart of stewardship — knowing God and making God the center of our lives. In fact, the underlying message of Proverbs is that seeking wisdom may be the essence and goal of life.

Jesus made reference to Heaven being like a great feast, a sumptuous meal. That is the point of the First Reading as well. We are given choices, and we also have free will. What we choose and what we select to do, to eat if you will, is a matter left to us. We are advised to choose carefully and wisely. From the perspective of Proverbs, the wise choice is the God-centered approach.

As is St. Paul’s wont, he speaks to the “wisdom” of pursuing a spiritual way of life also. In our Second Reading Paul makes reference to drinking and eating as well, but he advises us, just as is the case in Proverbs, to choose carefully what and what path of life we follow. Paul tells us to be “filled with the spirit,” and then he completes the concept of stewardship when he states, “…giving thanks always and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God the Father.” It is this sense of gratitude that all comes from the Lord that fulfills our lives as good stewards. All that we do is to be done in a spirit of thanksgiving. Being filled with the Spirit is more imperative than being filled with food and drink.

Jesus completes the idea of spiritual food when He states in today’s Gospel from St. John: “Just as the living Father sent me and I have life because of the Father, so also the one who feeds on me will have life because of me.” Today’s Gospel is a continuation from what is called Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse from which our Gospel readings for the past few weeks have been drawn. Early in the discourse narratives the people ask Jesus, “Rabbi, when did you get here?” We tend to think of Rabbis as those ordained to leadership in the Jewish church. However, the term “rabbi” comes from a Hebrew word meaning “teacher.”

Jesus is the Teacher. Jesus provides the Word and the meaning of the Word. His entire treatise on the “Bread of Life” is meant to teach us, to reveal to us, the importance of taking Jesus as our Savior, of uniting with Him through the Eucharist, and using that gift to further the Kingdom in His behalf. The Spiritual Bread offered us by Jesus is the fundamental food of life that we require.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: August 16, 2015

August 16, 2015 — Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Prv 9: 1-6; Ps 34: 2-7; Eph 5: 15-20; Jn 6: 51-58

CHRIST-I-AM-THE-LIVING-BREADHave you ever been hungry? Really hungry? People who have experienced intense hunger may appreciate Jesus’ words that He is the “Bread of Life” to a greater extent than others. We are aware that the world is filled with people who hunger and thirst, but most of us have never experienced the true pain of that experience.

While most of us are fortunate enough to avoid the pains of physical hunger, in our modern world and society, spiritual hunger runs rampant.

When the Lord says in today’s Gospel “This is the bread that came down from Heaven… whoever eats this bread will live forever,” He is addressing a need we have that is much deeper than physical hunger. He is also telling us that the reward for eating this bread — for taking it into our inner being, for changing our mind and heart because of it — is eternal life. Blessed Mother Teresa said, “The hunger for love is much more difficult to remove than the hunger for bread.” This is the hunger we need to deal with in our faith lives, for when we love, we are beginning to satisfy that spiritual hunger to which the Lord refers.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kgs 19: 4-8; Ps 34: 2-9; Eph 4:30- 5:2; Jn 6: 41-51

bread-of-life-discourseOf the Four Gospels the Gospel of John stands alone in many ways. It has been called by many the “spiritual” Gospel because of its unique approach to relating the Life of Christ. It was Clement of Alexandria who first called it that as he felt that the other three Gospels recorded the physical life of Christ, while John spoke to the spiritual life of Christ. Generally accepted as the last of the Four Gospels to be written, John the Apostle allegedly wrote it late in his life, and it is believed that he lived into his nineties.

It is interesting to note that St. John is thought to have died in Ephesus. It was Ephesus where Mary was believed to have lived her last days as well, and John is the one charged by Christ from the Cross to care for His Mother. Also, in our readings for this Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time it is the Ephesians (those who live in Ephesus) to whom St. Paul is writing in the Second Reading.

The idea of physical and spiritual lives surges through all three readings today. In the First Reading from the First Book of Kings Elijah is exhausted by his ministry, by what God has asked him to do. He turns to God and asserts to the Lord, “This is enough.” He is completely spent and seeks relief from his daily duties and challenges, his burdens. We often may do the same. However, God may minister to us in the same way that He does to Elijah. Initially God attends the physical needs of Elisha by granting him rest “under the broom tree” and then providing him with food, “Get up and eat.” The story of Elijah informs us that for the rest of Elijah’s life the Lord addressed the prophet’s spiritual needs.

In our reading from Ephesians last week St. Paul instructed us to get rid of our old self and put on the new self. He develops that idea further this week as he instructs us to get rid of “bitterness, fury, and anger.” These are characteristics of the old self, while the new self is embodied by kindness, compassion, and forgiveness. This is really the formula for us to be more Christian in our approach to life. Our call to discipleship and stewardship from Jesus intends for us to treat one another in this way. Our forgiveness, our love of one another, is patterned after the way we are treated by the Lord. God addresses our spiritual needs, and in response we need to reach out to the needs of those around us in service, forgiveness, and love. Jesus provided and provides self-giving love to each of us. That is the same kind of love which is expected of us.

One of our human frailties is that we think we are in charge, and that we make the choice to give ourselves to God and others. Stewardship is the humble acceptance of the fact that we are not in charge; we are never in charge. God is, has been, will be, and always will be in control. That is what Jesus means when He says in our Gospel reading, “They shall all be taught by God.” Jesus offers us spiritual bread (the Bread of Life) which is more than the manna provided in the desert. However, to fully receive and understand it, we must “eat it.” We cannot just savor or appreciate it. We must partake of it. Jesus must be part of our lives, and part of us. If we achieve that, then truly we can “live forever.”

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: August 9, 2015

August 9, 2015 – Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kgs 19: 4-8; Ps 34: 2-9; Eph 4:30- 5:2; Jn 6: 41-51

St-Paul-Icon-1The city of Ephesus was one of St. Paul’s major centers of operation. Although his letter to the Ephesians is not lengthy (it is about one-third the size of his letters to the Corinthians), many scholars consider it to be the most theologically sound of all his letters. One of Paul’s major purposes in writing it was to make clear to the Gentiles that they have been brought together with the Jews in the Body of Christ.

Unity is important, as much now as in the early Church. Furthermore, Ephesians is one of Paul’s most encouraging letters. In the interest of Christian unity Paul includes an important piece of advice in today’s Second Reading: “All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.”

The idea of forgiveness is so important to us if we truly wish to be Christians and good stewards. Most of us understand that we need to be forgiven, but that does not make it any easier for us to forgive. Yet, that is at the basis of our ability to be unified and loving in the way Paul advises. When we learn to forgive, we take a large step toward holiness, as indicated by the famous quote from Alexander Pope, “To err is human, to forgive, divine.”

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: August 2, 2015

August 2, 2015 — Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15; Ps 78: 3-4, 23-25, 54; Eph 4: 17, 20-24; Jn 6: 24-35

bread-of-life-discourseJesus proclaims to us in today’s Gospel reading from St. John: “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me will not hunger, and whoever believes in me will never thirst.” As Catholics, we have heard those words, or words to that effect, throughout our faith lives. However, we do not always grasp the complete meaning of what the Lord is saying to us.

Throughout our readings for this Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time this “bread of life” concept is explained and reinforced. In fact, John, Chapter 6, from which today’s Gospel reading is drawn, is known among many scholars and theologians as the “Bread of Life Discourse.”

Our First Reading from Exodus recounts what occurred in the desert after the Israelites had fled Egypt. They are quoted as saying that they had plenty to eat when they were in Egypt, and Moses seems to have led them into the desert to starve. Moses assures them that they will receive “bread from Heaven.” This miracle in the desert is the forerunner to what we are to learn about the Bread of Life from the Lord.

The Israelites are simply complaining. People who complain (even today) often look at the past or some previous event as being more positive than it may have been. Here are the Israelites looking with fondness back on their time as slaves and captives. Just as God met the needs of the Israelites in this account, He most often meets our needs as well. God has resources beyond our comprehension; the Israelites did not know the how of the bread which miraculously appeared. Our trust in God involves our trust in His ability to always meet our needs, to be with us in times of trial and stress.

In his letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul is trying to explain to them the unique and special qualities of being a Christian. As we as Catholics have become more mainstream in our society, we may tend to try to lessen our differences from others. Paul’s point is that we are different, that we look at life and society in a different way. This is, of course, a challenge for us and for all Catholics. Observe those who on the surface are Catholic throughout our country and our society. How many of them compromise Catholic beliefs to appear like others? Do we? As Paul indicates, if we are truly pursuing our faith as a way of life, we must be willing to change and to “be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and put on the new self, created in God’s way in righteousness and holiness of truth.”

In the Gospel from John, part of that discourse on the Bread of Life, Jesus prompts us to see the gift He gives us, that Bread of Life. Our Gospel readings for the past few weeks have emphasized this special gift from the Lord. From His feeding of the 5,000 about which we received the Word last week to this week’s declaration Christ broadens our understanding of the meaning of the Eucharist. Jesus is the Bread of Life who brings life to all who receive Him. This is fundamental to our beliefs and practices. In the First Reading from Exodus God delivered Israel from Egypt and He provided them with food so they could live while crossing the desert. That food was real food. However, it only sustained them in this life. Jesus as the Bread of Life not only sustains us here and now, but in a life that will endure forever. Every time we celebrate the Eucharist we celebrate the paschal mystery by which Jesus offers Himself as a sacrifice, and through that offering He is raised from the dead. Our participation in His dying and rising is through the Eucharist.

Stewardship Bulletin Reflection: August 2, 2015

August 2, 2015 — Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Ex 16: 2-4, 12-15; Ps 78: 3-4, 23-25, 54; Eph 4: 17, 20-24; Jn 6: 24-35

ST-PAUL-ICON-1St. Paul advises us in his letter to the Ephesians (our Second Reading) to “put away the old self of your former way of life… and put on the new self.” Paul is calling for a conversion, a change in how we live. We need to remember the first documented word that Jesus said when He began His ministry was “Repent.” It is also crucial that we keep in mind that the original word Jesus said was “metanoeo,” the Greek word as reported in Gospels. There are two parts to this word: the first meta means “change,” and the second noeo refers to the mind and its thoughts and perceptions.

Thus, what Jesus was really saying to us was “change your hearts and minds.” This is what St. Paul is speaking about when he says we need to “put away the old self… and put on the new self.” We are called to conversion; we are called to a change, a transformation that puts God at the center of our lives rather than self and all that goes with that self-centeredness.

This is the stewardship conversion to which we often make reference. This is not a one-time conversion but an ongoing one, a daily one, perhaps even more than once a day. That may sound impossible, but it is not if all we do and all that motivates us is the desire to live as Jesus wants us to. It is not easy, but it is joyful and fulfilling.

Stewardship Reflection on Lectionary Readings: July 26, 2015

July 26, 2015 — Seventeenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
2 Kgs: 4: 42-44; Ps 145: 10-11, 15-18; Eph 4: 1-6; Jn 6: 1-5

Christ_feeding_the_multitude“For thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and there shall be some leftover’.” We might conclude from that passage from Holy Scripture that a reference is being made to Jesus’ miracle of feeding the multitude. However, that is taken directly from our First Reading today from the Second Book of Kings in the Old Testament, a precursor to Jesus’ miracle, which is reported in today’s Gospel reading from St. John.

Originally one book, the Book of Kings, now divided into two parts, is the history of Israel and Judah from King David right up to the defeat and exile at the hands of the Babylonians. Our First Reading recounts a similar happening to what we have heard in today’s Gospel: a large group of people are fed by what is apparently a small amount of food, in this case 20 loaves of bread made from barley. We need to note a couple points from the reading, however. Specifically, these loaves were “made from the first fruits.” This is noteworthy to our complete understanding of this passage. Stewardship calls us to give of and from our “first fruits.” That was a central concept to the people of the Old Testament — everything comes from God, and it is appropriate that the first results of all our labors should go back to God. This is also a fundamental part of our understanding of stewardship. Although not stated, there is an implication that by giving of the first fruits, a gift, these loaves for example, may have more power and force. God can take any gift and multiply it many times over.

If our First Reading from 2 Kings indicates to us the possible strength of good stewardship, our Second Reading from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians gives us vital traits of a good steward. Paul calls on us to live “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another through love.” We may know someone who lives that way, but we also understand how difficult that is to do. Yet those are exactly the attributes which we understand we are to strive for, all motivated and based upon love.

Imagine what was going on at the time of Jesus’ ministry. Just His healing presence might have been enough for a multitude to gather. Nevertheless, there was something about this Man that definitely attracted people. We may also have walked some distance, as they did, to see Him, hear Him, and experience His presence. This is the same multitude for whom the Lord had compassion in last week’s reading. He feeds them first spiritually. Then He feeds them literally.

Interestingly, Jesus knows what will happen, and He also does not need anyone’s help to accomplish this miracle, but He turns to His Apostles for help and advice. As is the case many times with us, they do not think in the Lord’s terms. They are concerned about the cost of feeding the crowd, and about the feasibility of feeding them. We may at times run into the same uncertainty when trying to accomplish the Lord’s work by being good stewards. We often think “Where will the funds come from?”, or “This will not work.” The point is that if we turn to the Lord and if we rely on the Lord “all things are possible.” God is the all-powerful Giver; we are His helpers. If we perceive things that way, and if we do everything in His name and with the recognition of His support, we cannot fail.

There are numerous stewardship messages in this Gospel, but we must remember that it all starts with one little boy’s willingness to share what he had. Jesus does the rest. This is not about a huge and generous gift; it has to do with a simple and small gift, given with no thought of a return, and what the power of the Lord can accomplish with that offering.